Maintaining trust in the agility era ? the Brian Williams problem

Grace Blue Partner and PR expert, Jennifer Attias, looks at how trust, agile thinking, and strong, decisive leadership are the most important pillars for any organization to be successful.

As outlets compete in a news media landscape that grows more crowded by the minute, trust is just about the strongest currency there is.

This is why it came as such a shock when NBC News? star anchor Brian Williams, once named the 23rd most trusted celebrity in the US according to The Marketing Arm's celebrity index, lied about being fired at in a helicopter convoy in Iraq, calling the veracity of his entire career into question.

This is a huge challenge for NBC News, not just from a PR perspective, but from a reputation management and ethical standpoint. What does this incident say about the value of consumer trust in our ever more globalized and interconnected world, and how should modern business and media leaders take action in a crisis such as this?

Trust has become a genuine metric, an asset and a factor of acceptance by stakeholders and consumers in today?s lightning-fast environment. Building a strong foundation of trust is essential to successfully engage with audiences and consumers that have more alternatives and choices than ever. That?s why it?s so important for companies like NBC to demonstrate their clear personal and societal benefits and behave with integrity.

Being trustworthy and transparent aren?t just key conditions for organizations as a whole; the individuals and public figures that represent the brand must also uphold them. Indeed, if we can?t trust Williams to honestly report events he witnessed, then how could we trust NBC News, or more generally speaking, the media at large, to accurately report anything at all? Without this trust, the news media is essentially worthless.

This controversy also raises important questions about leadership and responsibility, not just in news reporting and media, but for those in leadership roles in any arena. In conversations I've had with leaders all over the world, the conclusion is that leadership is about responsibility, not power.

Leadership is not about you: it?s about your reputation and the way you interact with your stakeholders. At Grace Blue, we refer to our modern business environment as 'The Agility Era'. What this means is that right now, agile thinking, strong, decisive leadership and consumer trust are the most important pillars for any organization to be successful.

In The Agility Era, we demand higher standards of transparency, authenticity and believability. Despite the further damage done by Williams? disingenuous mea culpa, NBC did well to take swift and decisive action by suspending him ? showing their audience that they value their trust, and that NBC News and the anchor are willing to work hard to earn it back. They can begin the process by standing up and taking ownership of their mistakes, and by being fast, transparent and communicative in their investigation against Williams.

Agile leadership isn?t afraid to take quick action, to admit mistakes and to take bold steps to retain respect and the trust of their stakeholders. In the coming weeks, we?ll all see just how agile NBC and Williams ? and more generally the media ? really are.

The Drum